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Nature Connection

Most of us have experienced the healing power of a stroll in the park, a walk in the woods or along the seashore. In fact, nature therapy has been around for centuries, and the healing sanctuaries of the Ancient Greeks were usually built amidst natural beauty. But over the last couple of decades, we’ve learnt more about why nature is such a powerful healer and how we can draw on that relationship more effectively.

Spending time in nature can lower your pulse rates, reduce the level of the stress hormone cortisol, and boost your immune system. That means lower stress and reduced risk of severe anxiety and depression. Some research focuses more on the specific ways that nature helps our well-being. Several studies suggest that our sense of vitality – feeling more fully alive and energized – is enhanced by connecting with nature. Other research has found that experiences in nature can lead to a greater sense of personal autonomy and even an improvement in how meaningful life feels.

Taking time out to connect with nature can also help you be more creative. Research from the US found that a four-day nature hike improved creative problem-solving by as much as 50%. Sadly, most of us don’t have the option of taking a four-day hike in the wilderness, but even a 25-minute walk in your local park can boost your creativity. Some studies suggest that even having a house plant in the room can help you be more creative! Nature engages our senses and calms the mind. This creates the ideal environment for our imagination to let loose! Natural environments can help us feel more playful and often provide a variety that stimulates our curiosity. To get these benefits, you need to adopt an open mind and let the unexpected wonders of nature catch your attention. But this isn’t hard, as natural environments tend to create a more mindful frame. With your mind slowed down and your senses more awake, you’ll find it easy to find creative inspiration in nature.

It’s not hard to understand why nature connection is so powerful; humans evolved to live in harmony with the rest of nature. For many people, ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ are still woven into a single pattern. The Anangu, an Aboriginal group that lives in the area around Uluru, are typical. They live according to the Tjukupa: “the stories and the law that tells them how they should conduct their ceremonies & lives to ensure that they and the land continue to thrive. To them, nature and culture are the same” (Cultural Centre, Ayers Rock Retreat). But we have somehow lost that fundamental understanding that human well-being depends on a thriving ecosystem. This is not simply a matter of having decent food, clean water, and unpolluted air: it is becoming increasingly clear that spending time in nature has significant psychological benefits. Much of this research has been undertaken in the emerging field of ecopsychology, and I’m the Lead Editor of the European Journal of Ecopsychology.

Crossovers with other Embodied Pathways

Psychologists Stephen and Rachel Kaplan developed what they call Attention Restoration Theory. They propose that natural phenomena like birdsong, trees or the gentle sound of a stream provide sensory stimuli that are effortlessly fascinating and promote a sense of wellbeing. They call this “soft fascination”, an effortless process which allows for quiet contemplation. Nature gives the thinking mind a rest and creates a space for us to collect our thoughts and calmly process what’s going on in our busy lives. The soft fascination offered by a natural environment is very conducive to mindfulness meditation.

Focusing in nature can be powerful, quickly softening the perceived barrier between ‘me’ and ‘the world’. I’ve written an influential academic article on Focusing in nature, but this blog post is a better place to start. I’m currently developing a Focusing in nature training programme. More on this soon!

Psychedelics and nature connection work beatifully together, each mutually supporting the other. My blog post on Psychedelics and nature connectedness is a good introduction.

Get in touch if you’d like to attend one of my nature connection workshops, or sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to learn more.